Buen Viaje: The Wizard of Coffee in San Miguel

By Martin Lopez

In San Miguel de Allende, there are many cafes for enjoying a good cup of coffee, but one in particular, according to my palate, takes the throne.

Zenteno Café opened its doors more than six years ago on the corner of Hernández Macías and Codo Street—a small place, but one that catches even the most distracted passerby with its irresistible aromas of roasting Veracruz coffee beans. This space of delicious essences has become an extension of my house and of many San Miguel residents. It is a corner that invites you to enjoy life.

Making good coffee is not just about having a good Italian coffeemaker or taking a barista course; it is something much deeper that has to do with educating your palate with thousands of flavors and aromas. It is living in the coffee ranches and with the roasters—for feeling a true passion for this black liquid—and, perhaps, it is also giving it a little touch of alchemy to arrive at … your own mix! These arts and experiences are dominated by Antonio Meza, the co-creator of this space.

Today, this project has been expanding like a mushroom throughout the city and the state, and there are currently five coffee shops—four in San Miguel and one in León: Zenteno, Zenteno Bistrot (along the Ancha de San Antonio), La Sacristía (in front of the Temple of the Immaculate Conception), Santa Ana (in the Biblioteca Pública), and the one mentioned in León. In addition, Antonio once had the Bellas Artes and Casa Europa premises, which were closed for reasons beyond his control.

I recently decided to interview Antonio, after years of enjoying his mixes. Thanks to this first meeting, I now know a little more about this being who brightens up my mornings, along with those of many others, with his art of preparing this black concoction. I now understand a bit more about its continued success and expansion, so I will try to share what I learned, while enjoying a few more cups of coffee.

When I asked him about his past, I discovered that Antonio has had a successful career in administration and social and political communication, and is something of a Kabbalist, a stoic mixture that he surely applies to each cup. It had never crossed his mind to set up a coffee business in this beautiful city, or any other. It all started as an innate passion for this drink, as a good son of Veracruz, and he decided to leave all his previous jobs to go live for six months in the excellent coffee fields of Coatepec and experiment in his own soul.

From the hand of the producers, he learned the language of the aromas and essences of this elixir, from the ground up, to ensure that these complex cups, full of sweetness, fused with acidity and a bitter touch, achieve a true balance. There you see the hand of the good alchemist.

To talk about the healthy and sustainable part, which is difficult to find in most food products, Zenteno coffee is organically grown. It is part of a foundation that supports the education of women and children, promoting the Veracruz countryside, an especially important aspect because many workers in the region, as a result of poorly paid work, end up going to work in the United States «wet» (without official papers) in conditions that are unpleasant, compared to what

they had in their own land. Unfortunately, they say that Mexico exports the best and imports the worst. Labor laws must be reviewed and changed so that this no longer occurs.

In all its branches, the coffee house supports the community of artists, exhibiting their art without asking for commissions in return.

It also exports to Japan and Italy. To close the interview, I asked him, “Dear Antonio, where do you see yourself in five years? «I hope I’m still alive, enjoying life,» he replied, smiling.